Although one of the most horrifying events in human history, the story of Jack The Ripper has been ripe for interpretation. There have been countless literary, stage and cinematic works based upon the exploits of the most notorious serial killer of all time. Perhaps the allure of Jack The Ripper lies in the fact that the killer disappeared without a trace and more than a century later, the crimes remain officially unsolved.
Over the years, Jack The Ripper has been featured on the big screen and on television in a number of intriguing productions that spun the tale in various ways. In 1944, Laird Cregar starred as Jack The Ripper in the moody noir-ish black and white classic THE LODGER (as well as its similarly themed companion film HANGOVER SQUARE). The case of Jack The Ripper landed on the doorstep of 221B Baker Street in 1965ís A STUDY IN TERROR, which starred John Neville as Sherlock Holmes. Malcolm McDowell and David Warner starred in 1979ís TIME AFTER TIME, which had Jack The Ripper escaping from Victorian London to modern day San Francisco in a time machine constructed by author H.G. Wells. 1988ís JACK THE RIPPER miniseries starred Michael Caine, and while the program certainly contained artistic flourishes, the plot pretty much stuck to the facts of the case and offered a credible solution to the crime. Sadly, of all these filmed interpretations of Jack The Ripper, only TIME AFTER TIME is approaching DVD release, which is a shame, since all of them could have cashed in on the theatrical and DVD release of FROM HELL ($30).
Based upon the intense graphic novel From Hell, the directing team of Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes has brought to the screen one of the most stylish and dark interpretations of the Jack The Ripper story ever filmed. FROM HELL stars Johnny Depp as Inspector Frederick Abberline, who has clairvoyant visions of the Jack The Ripperís crimes, which are induced through his haze of opium addiction. While Abberlineís visions preclude his seeing the killerís face, they do work in conjunction with his superior detecting skills to allow Abberline to uncover the identity and motivations of Jack The Ripper. Unfortunately, getting at the truth of the crimes may be the last thing that Abberlineís superiors want. To say anymore about the plot would ruin the mystery for anyone who hasnít seen the film. FROM HELL also stars Heather Graham as prostitute Mary Kelly, whose diminishing circle of friends serve as Jack The Ripperís victims. Both Depp and Graham are quite good in their roles, as is the rest of the cast; however, Grahamís beauty makes seem out of place amongst the other prostitutes of the Whitechapel district. The superior supporting cast of FROM HELL features Ian Holm, Ian Richardson and Robbie Coltrane.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has made FROM HELL available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for 16:9 displays. Without a doubt, this transfer is utterly gorgeous. The image is wonderfully crisp, highly detailed and displays marked depth, despite the darkness of much of the film. Colors tend to be subdued, but then become intensely vivid to produce a shocking effect. Despite the intensity of some of the hues, colors are rendered with complete stability and no signs of noise or bleeding. Flesh tones are exceedingly realistic, which isnít always so appealing. Blacks are dead on perfect, while shadow detail and contrast are both truly excellent. Digital compression artifacts are never noticeable on this beautifully authored dual layer DVD.
For this release, FROM HELL has been provided with both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 channel soundtracks. If you thought a film set in Victorian London would have a sedate sound mix, think again. This is an aggressively mixed soundtrack that uses sound effects to punctuate scenes as effectively as Jack The Ripper wielded a blade on his victims. Sounds emanate from all of the discrete channels; some of which effortlessly pan around the entire soundstage. The recordings themselves are rich and full bodied; well utilizing the fidelity that each digital format offers. Dialogue reproduction is very clean and very precise- rending every syllable immaculately. The bass channel is surprisingly deep for a period film, with both sound effects and the filmís music taking advantage of any available subwoofer. Differences between Dolby Digital and DTS isnít particularly pronounced- the higher resolution of DTS creates a slightly richer sound, but otherwise one isnít missing much by listening to the standard bearer. French and Spanish Dolby Surround soundtracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVDís exceedingly stylish and intensely designed interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the DVDís supplement materials. Starting things off on disc one of the limited edition two-disc set is a running audio commentary featuring directors Albert & Allen Hughes, screenwriter Rafael Yglesias, cinematographer Peter Deming, and actor Robbie Coltrane. This is an excellent track that covers the creative process in detail, as well as covering the differences between the film, the graphic novel and history. Twenty deleted scenes are also contained on disc one. The deleted scenes are shown in color, while lead ins and lead outs from where the segments would have occurred in the body of the film are presented in black and white (a very nice touch). The deleted scenes are also offered with the option of directorsí commentary.
Moving on to disc two, we find a nice body of supplements, which includes no less than six featurettes. Jack the Ripper: 6 Degrees of Separation is an interactive featurette that run runs approximately thirty minutes and examines the historic data of the Ripper case and how the film differs. During the course of the program, a magnifying glass symbol will appear onscreen, offering the viewer the opportunity to examine a particular topic in more detail, which can add an additional half hourís worth of material to the featurette. There is a Production Design featurette that runs twelve minutes and looks at how Victorian London was recreated for the film. The Graphic Novel Comparison runs ten minutes and shows how such a dark work was translated and changed into a commercial film, while retaining the intensity of the original work by Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell. Hosted by the Hughes Brothers is the eight-minute Tour of the Murder Sites, which shows the elaborate recreation of Whitechapel built for the film. Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder runs ten minutes and looks at the now illegal liquor consumed by Jonny Deppís character in the film. Heather Graham hosts A View from Hell, a fluffy fifteen minute HBO Special created to promote the filmís theatrical release. A theatrical trailer closes out the second discís supplemental material.
FROM HELL is a superior cinematic spin on the tale of Jack The Ripper. The Hughes Brothers have to be complemented on their meticulous recreation of Victorian London and their attention to detail in this particular production. That, along with the filmís excellent performances and stylized visuals makes FROM HELL an outstanding genre motion picture. While the film is certainly not for the squeamish, I highly recommend 20th Century Fox Home Entertainmentís superb DVD to anyone intrigued by the subject matter and not put off by the accuracy or graphic nature of some of the movieís visuals.
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